Just different, that's all


There are many similarities between Canada and Australia. I can understand why our two countries get along so well, as we have a lot in common. We seem to have a fairly similar outlook on life, we are both very egalitarian and multicultural societies, and having a common British heritage, we have similar political systems. So far I think the cost of living is comparable (except for housing and cars, for which Australia seems far more expensive!)

But here are a few things - just small things - that I've noticed that struck me as being a bit different. Not better. Not worse. Just a bit different.

1. Driving. Obviously, driving on the other side of the road is a pretty noticable difference. It was pretty freaky at first, especially turning left and feeling like a head-on crash was imminent. But I was surprised at how quickly one adapts to it. In fact, it was not so much the driving on the other side of the road that was weird, but more the sitting on the other side of the car, shifting the transmission with your right hand not left, glancing at the rear-vision mirror to the right not the left, reaching for the seat belt on the left, not the right. It took a bit of getting used to. I've still managed to get into the passenger seat to drive a few times, but I'm getting better. Once we get our own car I'm sure it will improve rapidly.

2. TV Hosts. We seem to have most of the same TV shows here as we are used to at home - Who wants to be a Millionaire, Wheel of Fortune, Price is Right, and so on. But what really surprised me was the age of the hosts! When you are used to seeing people like Eddie Maguire and Larry Emdur, it just seems weird to have TV hosts in their 60s. And it's right across the board, with newsreaders, weather presenters, and game show hosts all being considerably older than those seen by Australian audiences.

3. Supermarkets. The Supermarket choices are huge here. There seem to be so many brands, sizes, varieties and options to choose from. The supermarket across the road from us is smallish compared to some of the bigger ones around here, but still has tons of variety in the products on offer. And the packaging is different too. Not only does every product have to, by law, be labelled in both English and French (except in Quebec, where it is just in French and apprently illegal to label in English)... also there are some curious packaging options, like milk that you buy by the plastic bag. Yes, plastic bag. You buy the milk in packs of three plastic bags, then insert a bagful of milk in a jug, snip the corner and pour from the bag. It seemed odd at first, but is actually a great idea from a minising waste point of view.

4. Scratchies. I don't know why this struck me, but it did. I watched a guy in front of me at the service station buying a scratchy ticket. In Australia, when you buy a scratchy, the newsagent just tears one off the roll and hands it to you. In Canada, (apart from the fact that you can also buy scratchies at petrol stations as well as newsagents) they are laid out on a big board under the glass counter and the attendant slides the board out, holds it out in front of you so you can randomly select the scratchy of your choice. I like the idea that you have the opportunity to make your own random choice as to which scratchy you actually pick. Like I said, I don't know why I noticed this, but I did.

5. Toilets. This is hard to explain, but the toilets here flush entirely differently. They have a much bigger bowl with a much smaller drain, and when you flush them, they fill right up to the top then swirl away in a big whirlpool. (By the way, they swirl counter clockwise if you're interested in knowing) Without going into an excessive amount of detail, the contents of the bowl swirl around in the whirlpool and go round and round and round before eventually they vanish down this little hole. They are quite effective, although seem to use an inordinate amount of water.

Anyway, that's enough for now... I'll keep my eye out for more.

Back to the Grindstone


Yes, school finally started for me this week, although its hardly been a grindstone really! Mind you, I was just starting to feel like I was actually on some sort of a holiday and the reality hit that I was, in fact, in Canada to work. How rude!

Seriously though, the school seems really nice. Holy Trinity High School is located in Oakville, only about 3km from home. It's only in its fourth year of operation so everything is quite new, and it has wonderful facilities. Dave took me on a grand tour of the place just before he left and introduced me to a bunch of people, and although I've been trying very hard to remember names I think it will take a while. The school has 1400 students, and 100 staff.

I've been allocated my classes and given some teaching resources and have spent the last few days looking through them, chatting with other staff members and generally trying to get into the swing of things. I've been given a place in a really fun work room (staff area) where no topic of conversation is off limits! I was warned! :-) But its lovely to be in a room with other people who can have a good chat about almost anything.

It's exam week at the moment, but Dave finalised all his exams before he left so I have been freed from the need to do all that stuff. The kids are in this week to do exams, then they come in on Thursday to pick up their results, then Friday is a staff development day. Classes proper start on Monday. I'll take some photos when school starts and post them here...

Pneumonia Pnuisance


A big thank you to everyone who emailed and asked about Katey's health after the Quebec trip and the pneumonia thing. She responded almost immediately to the antibiotics, and was nearly back to normal the next day, despite the 8 hour bus trip back to Toronto. She has had the last couple of days off school, but is champing at the bit to go back. She never stays sick very long... it's just a shame about her timing! Donna has been enquiring about doing a French language course, so that the next time we're in Quebec she can try to chat with the locals!

Kate also rang the local Guide group today and is really excited about attending some Guide functions while she is here. It will be marvellous to go back home having experienced the Guiding movement in another country.

More Quebec Pics


Got a few more photos here from Quebec....
Chris at the Ice Hotel A bed made entirely of ice
The amazing Montmorency Falls Government buildings, Quebec City
Ice sculptures for Winter Carnival An Aussie dinner group at the Quebec Hilton
Chris, celebrating his 43rd birthday with lots of wicked chocolatey stuff
There are more photos on our Flickr account (if you're interested) at http://www.flickr.com/photos/12719710@N00/sets/

bonjour du Québec


This weekend we visited Quebec City. What an amazing place (although I wish I knew more about Canadian history as I'm sure I would have had a greater appreciation for the place.) I knew that Quebec was the centre for the French part of Canada, but I still don't think I was prepared for the full reality of the place, as it is pretty much ONLY French speaking. In Toronto, all the signs and labelling are in French and English, but in Quebec everything is just written, spoken and done in French. Although I have never actually been to Paris, I kept thinking that's where I was. It was quite a wonderful experience.

We left Toronto's Union Station at 11:00pm on Thursday night and basically drove all night to be in Quebec but the early morning. First stop was a lovely little chalet called Chez Marie where we had a delicious breakfast, then we drove to an amazing cathedral at St Anne de Beaupre. This cathedral was huge, and I couldn't get over the huge collection of walking sticks, canes and frames that adorned the pillars at the front of the aisle, which had apparently been abandoned by those who claimed they were cured after visiting the cathedral.

We then went to Quebec City, the only fortified city in North America, and spent the afternoon wandering around its quaint streets, looking in shops and checking out the incredible old buildings. We found some ice slides down behind the Chateau Frontenac, and had a bit of fun there, before making our way towards the bottom of the town, where Kate made herself a new teddy to replace Rabbit, who went missing on the plane in Vancouver.

Friday night, Alex and I wandered down to the Place Hydro Quebec, to enjoy the festivities and the opening party for the Winter Carnival. The city has so much colour and light, and has such a European feel to it.

The next day was my birthday, and we were supposed to get on our bus to visit the Ice Hotel and Montmorency Falls, but as we boarded the bus Kate said she wasn't feeling well. Donna decided to take Kate back to the room and planned to meet up with us after lunch so we could see the rest of the town together. The Ice Hotel was also incredible, made entirely of only ice and snow, and it melts in the spring and then gets rebuilt every year. Montmorency Falls was spectacular, and the bridge over the actual falls gave an amazing perspective to them.

On arriving back at the hotel however, we were given a message that Donna had taken Kate to the hospital, Hotel Dieu de Quebec, so Alex and I rushed down there by taxi to find that Kate had been diagnosed with pnuemonia. It was quite a traumatic experience to be in a hospital with a sick child in a strange city, where very few people spoke English. We did not leave the hopital till quite late in the day, and eventually took Kate back to the hotel where she spent the evening in bed. I went out looking for a pharmacy and fortunately found one where the pharmacist spoke quite good English.

Alex and I went out to the Plaines d'Abraham that evening to look at the main centre for the Bonhomme celebrations, and then we all had dinner at the Hilton's restaurant. It was a nice evening, and Kate was feeling much better. It's a shame that we didn't get to see more of Quebec City, but at least we plan to get back here in the summer with the Robs when they come over.

Enjoy the photos...

Mmm, Lamingtons


Tomorrow is Australia Day, so we have to mark it somehow. We took a couple of flags up to the kids' school this morning - an Australian flag and the Indigenous Aboriginal flag. We gave them to Mr Dietrich, who was going to try and do something special tomorrow with them. Not sure what yet. Donna also decided that the kids should take in some lamingtons to share. Of course, she's never actually made lamingtons before, so what better place to make your first batch of lamingtons than in Canada? We mentioned to a few other mums at the school what we were doing, and they said "you're making what now?" We had to borrow a couple of cooling trays from the neighbours, and some of the ingredients were a bit hard to come by ("you want sponge cake?") but Donna managed to find a recipe online, substitute a few indredients here and there, and pretty soon we had the full lamington production line happening in the kitchen, and now we have over 60 yummy lamingtons ready to give out tomorrow! Beaudy mate!

Kids' first day of school


Alex and Kate starting school

Today was the kids' first day of school. Alex and Kate are attending Holy Family Elementary School, where Charlee and Adam were going. We visited the school the other day and arranged their attendance, although the principal was unavailable at the time so we had to delay their start until she could ok it. We did a tour of the school and it looks great, very friendly and small, only 300+ kids there, so it has a very welcoming feel to it. We got a tour by Mr Dietrich, who is actually Alex's teacher, and Kate got to hang out with a bunch of girls who she has been corresponding with via email for the last couple of months.

The school rang the other day to say that they could start on Monday, so this morning we all put on our gloves, hats, coats and boots and walked up to the school for a meeting with Mrs Flanagan the principal. After a short chat, they were off to class for their first day at a Canadian school.

During the day, Donna and I had a bunch of things to do, so we went to the post office (the Handy Mart) to post a package back to Thomas and Nicholas, then we went to the bank to open a local bank account. It was so easy! Not like back at home where you have to fill out forms and wait for things to be sent out in the mail. We were welcomed at the local branch of TD Canada Trust and a very nice fellow invited us into his office, listened to what we wanted, then simply and easily made it happen. We opened the account, were issued with cards on the spot, changed our PIN numbers, were shown how to log onto the Internet banking (which was active immediately) and that was that! We were all done in less than half an hour. Australian banks could learn a lot from these guys!

Donna had an interview at the Sylvan Learning Centre at 2:00pm so we drove down there (the long way). On the way we stopped at the local Chevrolet dealer so we could sort out the lease transfer on the car we are interested in. The lady there was also very helpful, and will get in contact with us with the required papers to sign so we can take over the lease on the car we found, a 2003 Chev Venture minivan. Also an easy process, so far anyway, but stay tuned until we actually own the car!

Donna got to her interview while I went to the MTO to sort out a licence. As you may have gathered from my previous posts, the whole licencing, car rego and insurance situation here in Canada is a bit of a dog's breakfast for non-Canadians... I will write more about it once I finally get it sorted, but trying to get an accurate and correct answer from people is like pulling teeth. Suffice to say that it is still unresolved at this stage. I have to get to the bottom of it soon though, as we are returning the rental car on Thursday and I want to have it worked out by the time we get back from Quebec on the weekend.

As for Donna's interview, she went well and was offered the job of course, but was a bit floored when they told her the rate of pay on offer... They would be getting a four year trained teacher with 25 years of experience, and they are offering a paltry $12/hour! On top of that, she would need to do training (for no pay) for three weeks before she could start, and even then there was no guarantee of how much work she would actually get. A bit of a joke really. Why would you get dressed up, drive across town, spend an hour teaching, then drive back again, for $12? Pay peanuts and get monkeys, I think. Trouble is, getting approved to teach in the school board here is proving pretty darn difficult... Perhaps the school board has inherited all the red tape that the banks got rid of!

Anyway, we picked the kids up after school, and they said they had a great day. Kate loved it and told us all about it. Alex needed a cattle prod in order to get any info at all but I think he did actually quite enjoy the day.

A few photos


Bit short of time to write stuff at the moment... gotta go make dinner... but here are a few photos to peruse. You can click on them to enlarge... Enjoy!

Looking down Jasmine Crescent in the snow The Grace family at the airport, leaving sunny Canada!
Chris and Dave The Betchers and the Graces
Sunny but cold, by the shores of Lake Ontario Shopping in downtown Toronto
Donna discovers Sears THe Dons in shopping mode



After a brief stop in Honolulu, (where Donna got to celebrate her birthday for a second time), we landed at Vancouver airport to do our immigration into Canada. This was a fairly straightforward process although the guy at immigration was under the impression that there was some issue with Donna’s visa that would preclude her from working with children… something of a problem when you are a teacher! As it turns out (we later found out after many phone calls!), he was actually mistaken and it was not a problem at all, but he spent so long investigated it that we were running late for our connecting flight to Toronto. We did eventually make it onto the plane in time, but as we tried to go through baggage check-in we got stuck behind a large group of Japanese tourists. I managed talked my way to the front of the queue, where the baggage guy said to just chuck them onto the conveyor and run for the plane.

We did make it onboard though with just enough time for the kids to get a quick look at the cockpit of the aircraft.

We arrived at Lester B Pearson Airport in Toronto at about 4:20pm on Tuesday 17th January – on the same day we left, after a 23 hour flight.

We were picking up our bags from the carousel when we spotted Dave and Heidi for the first time. They ran over and greeted us, it was hugs and handshakes all round and we stood chatting for ages. Great people, so easy to get along with, we felt like we had known them for ages. In fact we spoke to them for so long as we waited for the remaining bags to come off the plane that we didn’t realise that the carousel was now empty and everyone else had gone, but we were still waiting for three more bags. It was a bit disconcerting, but the airline people assured us that it happens all the time (especially when you’re late for a flight like we were), and they would probably be on the next flight. Donna, Heidi and Kate decided to go back home, while Dave, Alex and I waited for the next flight in about 40 minutes. As it turns out, the bags were on it, we got them ok, and we joined the girls back at our new home. The Graces live in a beautiful house in a really lovely area of Oakville, which we are quickly discovering is one of the more upmarket areas in the district. We feel really privileged that we will be able to call it home for a year.

Now Boarding


Well we finally made it. I am writing this from seat K25, aboard Air Canada flight AC34 at 30,000 feet somewhere above the Pacific Ocean. The last few weeks have been incredibly hectic, stressful, busy, and quite out of control at times, but here we are. We never would have done it without my amazing wife who ensured that every t was crossed and every i was dotted. She has an incredible capacity to organise, arrange and work out logistics, and we truly never would have made it without her. You should see the house - it is so spotless! Everything was cleaned, polished, arranged and organised to make the Grace’s stay as pleasant as possible. I hope they enjoy our house. When we first organised the exchange, it became obvious that their house in Toronto was quite a bit bigger and perhaps grander than ours and it did, I think, bother Donna that the Graces might be a little… maybe not disappointed…. but feeling like they had to take a downgrade on their accommodation. Dave insisted that this wouldn’t be the case, since they were coming to Australia to see and experience Australia, not to be a real estate critic. Besides, I don’t think they will feel that away because it really is a lovely house, and what it lacks in extra bedrooms and bathrooms I think it more than makes up for with its pleasant feel and bushy outlook. So we locked it up on Sunday afternoon ready for their impending arrival. We also sent Jess (our dog) to her new home with the Conways, Tiger (our cat) to Cathy Petrie, delivered the BMW to Robin who will be looking after it for us, and arranged for Rob to take the Suzuki when he saw us off at the airport. We stayed at Mum’s for a few days, which was great, and I think she enjoyed having us there. Our last night was spent at the Mercure Hotel at Sydney Airport. To other exchanges, I would recommend doing it this way. The task of getting the Shuttle bus to the International terminal was pretty easy this morning, and I would not have liked to have tried to get us and all our bags to the airport from home. The Bailey-Hughes’ kindly offered to help us get to the hotel on Monday along with both mine and Donna’s mums. We had a celebratory champagne in the bar with them, and a quick walk together before saying our goodbyes for the last time for a while. Later that night the Steele’s came to see US as well, and we all went over the road to the Rowing Club for a lovely slap-up dinner. After a pretty ordinary sleep… maybe we were all just to wired to sleep… we were up at 5:15 am to get dressed and ready for the 6:30 shuttle bus. The number of bags was a challenge we had 2 big bags each (23kg limit) as well as carry-on bags, camera cases, backpacks, etc I so Just moving it around the terminal was interesting. We found a huge trolley and got to check in… no excess baggage! (yet further testimony to Donna’s ability to organise –she weighed every bag and shuffled stuff back and forth to ensure each bag didn’t exceed 23 kg!) Getting through Customs was really straightforward and even the security check was quite painless. A quick brekkie in the departure lounge and a bit of shopping for a couple of Canadian AC adapters and we were on our way to Gate 54 and the awaiting Boeing 767-300. The only check I had to endure was at the boarding gate to the aircraft, where they went through some of our hand luggage. The guy apologised for the inconvenience, but my reply was, “Look mate, if it keeps us safe, do whatever you want”. Next stop Honolulu, then Vancouver, then Toronto. Dave emailed to say they would be waiting at the terminal holding a sign saying Betcher. I’ve always wanted to be met at an airport by someone holding a sign with my name on it! See you in Canada, eh!

Experience Required


I don’t think I’m a bad driver. I mean, I think I’m actually a pretty good driver, and while I realise that most people probably think they are pretty good drivers, I really do believe that my driving ability is better than average. I got my license in 1980 and, despite some ebb and flow of occasional demerit points over the years, have held it continuously since then. I drove a taxi for more than three years and was spending 14 hours a day on the road in Sydney traffic. I’ve been a courier driver on and off for a number of different companies. As a 4WD club member I take great pride in my ability to drive well, under control and according to the conditions around me. Heck, according to my 1988/89 tax return I have even been a professional rally driver at one point, since I earned significant sponsorship income driving in the Wynns Safari that year. I would estimate I have driven well over half a million kilometres, in all sorts of conditions, both onroad and offroad. Apparently, none of this matters to the Ontario Ministry of Transport. When I arrive in Canada I will be offered a G1 learners permit. Oh, if I bring an International Licence (which has no driving test attached to it) they will graciously waive the need for me to have a fully licenced Canadian driver in the car with me, but its still just a learners permit. Apparently I only have to hold my G1 for a minimum of 48 hours and I will be able to sit for a practical driving test, upon the successful completion of which, I will be given a G2 licence. This G2 licence rewards my 25 years of driving experience with… nothing. It treats me as a first year driver. Aren’t I lucky? “So what?” you say. The serious implication of all this is that when I attempt to get insurance for a car I get treated as a foreigner with absolutely no driving experience. I’ve had two places now tell me that I should expect to pay somewhere in the vicinity of $5000 Canadian dollars for my annual insurance premium! What a joke! I’m going to go talk with an insurance broker once I arrive in Oakville and see if I can find some way to make this whole thing more agreeable, but I’m not too impressed. Although I consider myself a safe and skilful driver, I have a few offences against my name over the past 25 years, including a few that I accrued in the last couple of years… low level speeding, less-than-15km-over-the-limit sort of stuff. You know, 61 in a 50 zone… real dangerous stuff! One insurance company that was recommended to us as being easy to deal with and understanding of the issues facing teaching exchangees, was hopeless. The guy I spoke to told me that if I had a couple of tickets in the last three years they didn’t want to know me. Maybe he was just an officious prick who was trying to be difficult, but he basically just terminated the conversation and said they were not interested in insuring me. How come they can NOT recognise my Australian driving licence, but they can make judgements about my Australian driving record? Are they interested in taking my driving experience into account or not? Surely it’s one or the other, but they can’t have it both ways. They can’t say on the one hand that they won’t acknowledge my 25 years of driving history, but they will acknowledge my traffic offences. So at the moment I’m looking at a $5000 bill for car insurance… and I’m just a tad pissed off about that. Can you tell? Oh, by the way, I can hire a car to drive, no problem. But I can’t buy one until I get insurance, and I can’t get insurance until I get a licence. And they will give me a licence that treats me as a brand new, no experience whatsoever, driver. Hmmmmmm. BTW, if you want to listed to the bizarre conversation I had with the MOT, here is the audio file, courtesy of Skype... 6Mb download, so patience is a virtue.

Email: chris@betcher.org
Skype: betchaboy

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